Statista reports that there has been a decline in air traffic fatalities over the past 15 years, with 2020 having a total of 137 deaths due to air crashes. Though air traffic fatalities are unavoidable, they can be prevented if airline operators have strict maintenance procedures in place. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), regular inspections and preventive maintenance are essential to ensure airworthiness. So, as a highly regulated industry, aviation companies must follow established regulations and implement continuous inspection programs to ensure compliance and air safety.

What Are the Types of Maintenance Checks?

Before a plane can be allowed to take off, it must be fully vetted as safe to fly. Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure that an aircraft remains safe and airworthy.

The FAA requires that all aircraft be inspected at specific intervals and must be approved for return to service by appropriately qualified personnel. The three primary types of maintenance checks or inspections (FAR 91.409) are:

1. Annual Inspection

This routine inspection applies to most general aviation aircraft, except those with an approved progressive inspection plan, special flight permit, current experimental certificate, or provisional airworthiness certificate. The inspection must be completed and signed off by a mechanic with an inspection authorization (IA).

2. 100-Hour Inspection

Any aircraft that carries passengers for hire needs to undergo a 100-hour inspection.

3. Progressive Inspections

This inspection aims to minimize maintenance downtime. It requires that an aircraft maintenance schedule be followed according to the manufacturer’s standards. This is the preferred option of owners of large aircraft fleets such as fixed-base operators (FBOs), flight schools, and corporate flight departments.

The FAA also requires each airline or operator to develop a Continuous Airworthiness Maintenance Program (CAMP), which includes a routine and detailed inspection of their aircraft. The program covers everything from preflight inspections to heavy maintenance checks.

Line Maintenance Checks are basic inspections by aviation maintenance technicians. They include inspections of wheels, brakes, oils, and hydraulics levels. An aircraft with an accumulated time of 24 to 60 hours will require this type of inspection.

A and B Checks cover general inspections of the aircraft’s interior and hull. They check for any sign of damage, deformation, corrosion, or missing parts. This is performed every 400-600 flight hours. B checks are now included in the A check phases to reduce aircraft downtime and improve maintenance scheduling.

C and D Checks fall under “heavy maintenance” because of the extensive inspection required. This type of inspection requires an aircraft to stay at a maintenance facility during the required maintenance hours. These hours can vary from 6,000 to 50,000 labor hours.

Aircraft maintenance is a critical process that should never be underestimated. As such, a maintenance program should be strictly followed. Can automation help in this regard?

Trends in Automation

Maintenance checks, although crucial to keep assets operationally available, are also major contributors to flight delays and high operating costs. Aviation companies are now looking into automated aircraft inspection to minimize downtime, improve task planning, and enhance parts management.

Automation in aviation can be broken down into two: to automate physical actions, such as inspections and repairs using machines; and to automate tasks within an operational process.

Although still in its infancy, the use of innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT), and Robotics, are now gaining traction with connected aircraft. They can be used to automate activities that can reduce human intervention to a minimum. Let us look at a few examples:

Inspection robots and drones

  • Rolls-Royce developed an engine-inspection robot—a miniature cockroach-inspired camera robot—which can be deployed in “swarms” to help inspect difficult-to-access components.
  • MRO Drone’s autonomous drone can examine a full narrowbody exterior in just 30 minutes and a widebody in one hour.
  • Invert Robotics’ robot is outfitted with state-of-the-art cameras and sensor technology that records and transmits video images to a ground-based screen for real-time analysis by line maintenance staff.

Hangar of the Future

  • Airbus’ Air-Cobot robot could be utilized to automate maintenance activities and speed up data capture.

Augmented and Mixed Reality

  • The Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAPs) has teamed up with Microsoft HoloLens to facilitate technician training on how to maintain an aircraft by overlaying 3D holographic content in the real world.
  • Boeing uses AR “smart glasses” from Upskill to simplify complex wire installation. This has resulted in a 25 percent reduction in production time and virtually zero errors.

Automating tasks, especially in automated maintenance systems, can only be possible if there is a seamless data exchange. Data must be in digitized form. A paperless system that stores data in a centralized location, available across different processes, can increase operational efficiency. Let us look at this scenario:

During a flight, an aircraft developed a fault in an operational sector. The central maintenance computer detected the fault and sent the necessary information to a ground station. Because of the airline’s automated maintenance system, the information received by the ground station was then routed to the proper department. There, the maintenance control engineer analyzed the fault and created a work order, including part requisition. The entire process took only minutes, from the time the materials team received a part requisition until the maintenance team received the work order via their mobile tablet, including the parts and tools required for the repair. To finally complete the work order, the engineer signed it digitally on his tablet and updated the aircraft records.

This is just one of the many ways an automated maintenance system can create a seamless workflow for an organization. To answer the question about whether complete automation is possible or desirable in aircraft maintenance scheduling – yes! Thanks to digitalization and the availability of emerging technologies. If you are new to this concept, some third-party providers can help you understand the potential of automation when maintaining your aircraft.

EmpowerMX can make automation possible in your organization. Talk to us today!

EmpowerMX delivers a software suite dedicated to help airlines and MROs plan, execute, and optimize their operations. We’ll be glad to assist you and discuss how you can benefit from our solutions.